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Guns and Violence in the United States, By the Numbers

By Nick Leghorn on December 13, 2013


As the anniversary of the Newtown shooting approaches, the usual gun control advocacy organizations are gearing up their propaganda campaigns to try and convince us that guns make us less safe, and that the only "common sense" solution to the "gun violence epidemic" is gun control. But as we've proven time and again here on this website (and cataloged for you in our Gun Facts section), that's just not the case. Every claim that gun control advocates make trying to link the existence of guns to violence falls flat on its face when you add a splash of context and some verified numbers. But in preparation for this weekend, I wanted to bring together some of those hard and fast facts, based on verified numbers from the U.S. government (rather than surveys or flawed studies), that illustrate the truth about guns and violence in the United States. This way you'll have a single post to link to when you come across one of these pro-disarmament articles . . .

Gun Ownership On the Rise

Over the last decade, the number of guns being purchased in the United States has skyrocketed. Just over the last two years, there really hasn't been a month where the NICS checks (the background check required to buy a firearm from a firearms dealer) has dropped under a million checks per month. The NSSF tracks the number of NICS checks reported by the FBI, and while the numbers are slightly lower than last year around this time (artificially high due to Obama's re-election) sales are still through the roof. And that doesn't even count the number of new (factory fresh) gun sales in states where a concealed handgun license exempts the holder from having to pass a NICS check, such as Texas and Virginia.

Ruger is shipping over 1.2 million firearms this year, and that's just one gun manufacturer - and not even the largest one. Some companies have backlogs of gun orders that will take them up to 2 years to fill, and when those guns do hit the market they're quickly sold out in stores. Even without the new sales, guns are "durable goods" which means that they last a long time and the existing number of guns in the United States is (by some estimates) enough for eight guns for every ten people in the country.

All this is to say that guns are prevalent, and more guns are being sold every year in this country. The standard cry from gun control advocates is that more guns equals more death and more crime, so if their assertion is correct we should see a direct correlation between the number of guns being sold and an increase in the death rate in this country. But the numbers say otherwise.

Firearms Related Deaths On the Decline

If the gun control activists are right, then more guns must equal more crime. However, even in this graph that shows the overall homicide rate in blue and the firearms related homicide rate in red, you can clearly see that the phrase "steady" is the worst you can use to describe the current state of affairs in the United States, and the phrase "decline" might be more appropriate for the years since 2005. These numbers are from the U.S. Government Center for Disease Control, which tracks all deaths in the United States, and I personally pulled them yesterday when researching this article. .

Gun control activists constantly clamor that there's a "gun violence epidemic" in the United States, but the numbers don't reflect that statement. In fact, the argument could be made that as the firearms ownership rate increases there's a correlation to a decline in the murder rate. So perhaps, more guns equal less crime? That's the position taken by a recent study from Virginia that showed a decrease in violent crime as the number of firearms being sold increased, and while it's an interesting possibility there's no good way to decisively prove it. On the other hand, this data does decisively disprove the gun control hypothesis that "more guns = more crime."


To give you a little context on where these crime rates are compared to historical data, take this chart which shows the murder rate over a much larger period. The last time the United States was this peaceful was 33 years ago, according to the CDC. The United States has seen a decline in the murder rate ever since the peaks of the 1990s, and yet the gun control advocates claim that there's now a "gun violence epidemic." I'm not buying it.

Accidental Deaths On the Decline

While crime prevention is one claim of gun control advocates, another popular statement is that more guns mean that more people will accidentally shoot themselves. Well, again, the CDC disagrees with that assessment. Even as gun ownership is on the rise, and more people than ever are carrying concealed firearms, the number of people (raw number, mind you) accidentally killed with firearms each year continues to drop. The accident rate shows an even more marked decline.

Let me put this into context a little bit more. There are, according to the CDC, 308 million people in the United States. That's 308,745,538. Of those 308 million people, only 600 were accidentally killed with a firearm. That's a 0.000194% chance that you will be accidentally killed with a gun in any given year. According to the National Safety Council, over 12,000 people die every year simply by falling down.

Accidental Death Rate High, but Guns are Not the Problem

The accidental death rate in the United States is about twice that of other countries, like the United Kingdom (18/100,000 versus 39/100,000). And while that may seem like a vote against guns, in reality the number of firearms related accidental deaths are so small that they're barely visible in this chart (source: CDC). The main issue in the accidental death rate is traffic accidents, but when gun control advocates talk about their topic of choice they make it seem like the only thing keeping us from having the same lower statistics as the UK is gun control. It's a lazy analysis of the situation, and even if we eliminated all firearms related accidental deaths it still wouldn't bring us any closer to eliminating the gap in overall accidental deaths.

Interesting side note: the difference in accidental death rate is actually based on the way we commute to work. Cars are basically death traps, and the United Kingdom relies more on public transportation to get to work than the United States. We love our cars, even though we have an extremely high likelihood of dying in them. And yet we still drive, even though there's a 0.012% chance we'll die in one every year. For comparison, I have a 0.0002% chance that I'll accidentally kill myself with my gun. So in reality, my gun is safer than my car. Go figure. Maybe I can somehow shoot my way to work, circus clown style...

Proportion of Guns Used in Crimes: Very, Very Low
Going back to that original point of the gun control advocates, that guns directly cause crime, then we should expect that a large percentage of the guns in this country would be used in a crime. However, that's just not the case.

Percent firearms used in crime

This chart shows the number of guns in the United States (using a LOW estimate from Wikipedia) versus the total number of victims of violent crime involving a firearm every year (source: Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers for 2012). If we assume that a different gun was used for every robbery, murder and assault, then that number comes out to 460,718 firearms. That's 0.185% of all guns in the United States. For reference, every year 2.13% of all motor vehicles are involved in a collision. So again, guns are safer than cars.

Concealed Carry: Safer and More Law Abiding than the Police
With the increasing popularity of concealed carry, there was a common thread among the gun control advocacy groups' opposition: the statement that concealed carry would bring "blood in the streets." That these "gun nuts" who carry guns everywhere they go are just "looking for trouble" and itching to kill someone. Well, again, that's just not right.


Thanks to some sleuthing, we know that concealed carry holders are actually less likely than even the police to commit a murder. According to the Violence Policy Center, Florida has the highest murder rate among concealed carry holders, and Dean figured out that those numbers put the murder rate at somewhere around .58/100,000. Counting domestic homicides only, police officers committed 1.85/100,000 over the same time period. Nationally, the murder rate in the United States sits right around 4.5/100,000. Therefore, you're over three times less likely to be killed in a room filled with concealed carry holders than police officers.

Cool, huh?

Firearms and Children: Declining Murders and Accidents
The last refuge for those without a logical leg to stand on is "think of the children!" OK, let's think about the children for a second in terms of guns.


According to the CDC, the number of firearms related fatalities for "children" has been steadily falling over the last two decades even without more restrictive gun control laws. I put children in quotation marks because, while some people consider 24 year old people to still be children, my cut-off is the age at which the state lets you operate a 2-ton moving death machine unsupervised in public (16). The reason that this age bracket is used by gun control advocacy groups, as I outlined in this article, is that this is the age range in which most gang related crime is committed. Some estimates put the percentage of gang related murders in the United States at around 80%, indicating that the issue isn't the availability of guns but the prevalence of gangs and the related violence.

Let's move away from the murders for a second. Gun control advocates love to use the image of a child who accidentally shot themselves or someone else and died after "playing" with a gun. It evokes a parental response, making you feel like you need to "do something" to prevent such tragedies. And while those incidents do happen, it's extremely rare - and getting rarer by the year.


Notice that distinctive downward trend? Yeah, I did too. Nevermind the fact that this happens to less than 150 kids every year, the fact of the matter is that the "problem" of kids accidentally killing themselves or others with a gun is one that is disappearing. Instead of increasing as more guns are being sold to the U.S. population, not only is the raw number of kids being killed in this matter staying relatively stable but it even seems to be declining.

The burden of proof is on the gun control activists. Their assertion is that more guns equal more crime, that concealed carry means "shoot-outs in the streets" and deranged "gun nuts" looking to kill people, and that there's a "gun violence epidemic" that needs to be addressed. But looking at the numbers from the CDC, I don't see it. Gun sales have gone through the roof in the last six years, and at worst the numbers for firearm related deaths are stable. At best, they're declining. Not one single metric that I could find indicated that gun owners were anything less than model citizens, and that gun ownership is not the root of all evil.

The best confirmation of this comes not from any study or calculation, but from the opinions of the American people themselves. Support for gun control is at an all time low. I'd like to think that it's because people are finally understanding that the object is not the problem but instead it's the behavior that needs to be changed. However, some people still don't see the light. Hopefully with enough proof we can change their minds as well.